TUESDAY, July 13 (HealthDay News) -- The regions of the human
brain that grow most rapidly during infancy and childhood are
nearly identical to the regions that are most different between
humans and monkeys, new research has found.
The discovery was made by U.S. researchers who scanned the
brains of full-term infants and healthy young adults in order to
assess the differences in brain scans between the two age groups --
part of a larger study on the effects of premature birth on brain
The study found that the cerebral cortex -- the wrinkled area on
the surface of the brain that is responsible for higher mental
functions such as language and reasoning -- grows in an uneven way.
While every region expands as the brain matures, one-quarter to
one-third of the cerebral cortex expands about twice as much as
other cortical areas during normal development.
The findings were published online July 12 in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Through comparisons between humans and macaque monkeys, my lab previously showed that many of these high-growth regions are expanded in humans as a result of recent evolutionary changes that made the human brain much larger than that of any other primate. The correlation isn't perfect, but it's much too good to put down to chance," senior author David Van Essen, Edison professor and head of the anatomy and neurobiology department at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a university news release.
The researchers are now conducting scans of the brains of
premature babies at birth and years later in an effort to learn
more about how premature birth affects brain development. They also
want to explore the role that structural problems in the brain may
play in conditions such as autism, attention-deficit disorder and
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